Track and sanctioning body do not specifically prohibit a driver from being on the racing surface.
A review of the rules of both Canandaigua Motors Park in New York, and the Empire Super Sprint series, suggests that racer Kevin Ward, Jr., violated no specific rule when he climbed from his disabled car Saturday night and walked toward the sprint car of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who was still under power.
Ward, 20, was apparently upset with Stewart, who had passed Ward’s car on the inside of turn two of Canandaigua’s half-mile dirt oval track, forcing Ward high. Ward’s car contacted the outside wall, flattening the right rear tire and bending the wheel. The right rear tire on Stewart’s 1,475-pound car, a spec Hoosier that is about 19 inches wide, struck Ward, who died from the impact.
A review of the rules of a half-dozen dirt oval race tracks, including Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which Stewart owns, showed no specific rule prohibiting a driver from exiting a disabled race car on the track. And a review of the rules of five sanctioning bodies showed the same result.
The Empire Super Sprints rule book does prohibit crew from entering the track to work on cars during caution or red-flag periods “unless requested by an official.”
Competitors called upon to inspect the facility
The Canandaigua Motorsports Park rule book says that competitors should “inspect the racing surface and racetrack,” and that “Any driver entering any racing events is considered to have inspected the track and agreed all conditions are satisfactory to him/her...if not, HE/SHE SHOULD NOT RACE. The further indicated that he/she is aware of these risks with full awareness and knowledge. The speedway assumes no responsibility for damages to or loss of your equipment, vehicle, or any parts by any means, whatsoever.”
The track’s rules also say that, “Any member taking physical action against an individual or personal property, for any reason, may be fined and/or suspended.” In addition: “Only safety crews and wrecker crews will be allowed on the track in the event of any accident. At no time will any of the driver's crew be allowed on the track.”
Whether or not Ward was in violation of any rule could have an effect on an insurance claim. “You and your crewmembers are covered with as broad benefits as the racers in the major racing associations in the U.S.,” says the track rulebook. “Our liability insurance insures the race track, the car owner, driver, and sponsor.”
In view of the incident, it seems likely that rulebooks across the country may soon get an addendum. An executive who oversees several large sanctioning bodies told Motorsport.com, not for attribution, that he wants to add a rule that states that drivers should not leave their disabled car while it is on the race track unless safety concerns require it, such as an onboard fire, until directed to do so by on-scene safety officials. And if a driver does leave his or her car, thus creating an unsafe condition, that the race would immediately be red-flagged.
That rule has already been initiated by New York;s Brewerton Speedway, as just revealed in Nick DeGroot's story on Motorsport.com.
Often rules at tracks and sanctioning bodies are driven by their insurers, and that could be the case here.
A message from the promoter
Canandaigua Speedway, the "fastlands of the Finger Lakes," has been open since Memorial Day, 1953, making it one of the oldest short tracks in the country. It was home for multiple top short-track drivers, many of them in the modified series, including 1964 track champion Jerry Cook, who went on to win six NASCAR championships.
Following is a statement from the well-respected promoter, Jeremie Corcoran:
“ I am extremely devastated from the tragic incident that occurred at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Saturday night as I know are many, many, others.
“First and foremost I offer my sincerest and deepest condolences to the Ward family. Kevin Ward Jr was a spirited competitor and loved by so many. This is a tremendous loss to this family and the racing family as well. I have spoken to the family and they spent prayer time at the track Sunday in the early morning hours. Godspeed #13!
“To all the fans that witnessed this incident I have you in my thoughts. This has been difficult to process and it surely is not what you come to the races for. I do ask that you hold on to your integrity and have compassion for everyone that was involved in this. I understand that we all can have opinions and have the right to express them, I just ask that you think about all the lives that have been affected over this before you speak out. So many people are affected. So many are hurting. No one deserves more pain or blame. We need unity to support all that are hurting and the sport of racing we care so much about. That is the only way for us to heal and move forward.
“To all my staff that responded to this terrible tragedy I thank you for your professionalism and dedication. Our Medical Staff did everything they could and I know you are all hurting. All the Safety and Track Officials that scrambled to secure the track and keep everyone focused and calm I thank you. To all my friends that have called/texted me I thank you for your encouragement and support.
“I have made the decision to cancel our upcoming “Whacko Wednesday” event on Wednesday August 13th at Canandaigua Motorsports Park to give my family, staff, fans, and racing teams time to grieve and process all that has occurred. I will let everyone know about next weekend as soon as I can.
“Lastly, I had to have our Facebook Page taken down early Sunday morning due to insensitive and hateful comments. I plead with you to be respectful so we can keep this page active for you to keep informed.
“Sincerely, Jeremie Corcoran and Family.”